The record-breaking 15 flash appeals in 2007 brought to the fore some long-standing weaknesses in flash appeal principles and practices, which the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) moved to correct. A flash appeal overhaul plan was presented to donors at the February 2008 Montreux Retreat and to the IASC Working Group in June 2008, focusing on reviewing the flash appeal mechanism in light of other developments in humanitarian policy and response tools, including the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the cluster approach, the Resident Coordinator/Humanitarian Coordinator (RC/HC) function, and efforts to improve contingency planning, rapid needs assessment, and surge capacity. The basic rationale of flash appeals - to organize the response and funding requests, and to stimulate funding supply - were considered to be still relevant. However, questions were raised by both appealing agencies and donors as to whether or not the design, practice, and image of flash appeals required an overhaul in view of what looked like increasing demands on this tool.
The Flash Appeal Overhaul brought key elements of flash appeal policy into sharp focus, and its implementation is regarded as having improved the performance of the IASC in a number of areas. In particular, greater compliance with existing policy on the speed of flash appeals was achieved: the average time taken to issue an appeal in 2008 was half of what it had been in 2007. Greater clarity was also achieved regarding what should be included in them. Fulfilment of the requirement to revise flash appeals has become more widespread and there is a growing body of best practice to underpin revisions. Good progress was also achieved regarding prioritization (or categorization) of projects in revisions. Greater clarity was achieved with regard to the phased introduction of early recovery projects, and the nature of the relationship to immediate CERF funding. The importance of pre-disaster preparedness has been emphasized at every opportunity, particularly as the majority of 2008 flash appeals, as in 2007, took place in countries where the work of the UN and its partners had been mainly focusing on development.
The experience of 2007 gave much consideration to the link between the large numbers of climate-related (or, perhaps more agnostically, natural-disaster-related) appeals that year and the increasing evidence of the humanitarian impacts of climate change, with an accompanying assumption that the need for, and the pressure on, humanitarian response tools would grow. This assumption has not been borne out in 2008: there were fewer flash appeals than in 2007, and the range of situations in which flash appeals were used encompassed a wider variety of contexts. These included political emergencies, complex emergencies, and natural and climatic disasters, with the key variable being that the flash appeal continued to demonstrate its value in generating inter-agency coordination, advocacy, and funding in a wide variety of contexts. (The range is even broader if one includes the handful of humanitarian appeals and response plans in 2008 that were not explicitly called 'flash appeals' for various reasons, though using best flash appeal practice.) Flash appeals were also launched in countries which heretofore had been averse, for a variety of reasons, from having any kind of organized international humanitarian response, such as Myanmar.
As with any learning experience, many questions were answered and several more were raised, and difficult issues remain in implementing flash appeal overhaul. This is particularly true of the revision process, with the overall experience at the moment showing as many different kinds of revision as there are contexts within which flash appeals are issued. Additionally, some elements of the FAOP are yet to be satisfactorily addressed. This includes the need to simplify or standardize rapid appraisal methodology and metrics of scale and severity, the need for agreed thresholds in indicating when to issue a flash appeal, and the need for clarity in the relationship between system-wide appeals and individual agency / organization appeals. The amount of latitude that country teams in developmental settings can be allowed in trying to implement the best practices of humanitarian reform while in the heat of a new crisis is still controversial, although far less so than in key instances in 2007. Related to the importance of pre-disaster preparedness, global cluster leads have some way to go in developing generic projects and budgets that could allow a flash appeal to be compiled almost immediately after a rapid appraisal and estimate of likely needs. These issues will be the focus of continued implementation in the remainder of 2009 and 2010.
In analysing the implementation of the Flash Appeal Overhaul Paper (FAOP) recommendations, this document follows the basic structure of the FAOP, and examines those appeals issued and revised from 1 January to 31 December 2008.
- UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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